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President Obama To Address U.N. General Assembly; Obama On World Stage At UNGA; Clinton Weighs In On Tax Debate; Cause Of Baby Panda Death Still Unclear; Same Sex Marriage; Replacement Refs On Hot Seat Again; Students Cited In Sexual Hazing Case; Fiscal Cliff and Your Tax Bill; Obama's Foreign Policy Message

Aired September 25, 2012 - 06:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome to EARLY START everyone. I'm John Berman.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It's 6:00 a.m. in the East. It's very nice to have you with us this morning.

We begin with the global spotlight on President Obama. New this hour excerpts from the speech that he will deliver in front of the United Nations General Assembly just hours from now on its opening day.

Obama will address the deadly consulate attack in Libya, saying quote, "Today, we must affirm that our future will be determined by people like Chris Stevens, and not by his killers.

Today, we must declare that this violence and intolerance has no place among our united nations." He is, of course, referring to the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, who was among the four Americans killed in those attacks.

BERMAN: For more on the speech, we're joined now by Elise Labott. So what else is he going to say this morning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, certainly one of the things that the international community is looking at right now is a possible pre-emptive strike by Israel against Iran for its nuclear program.

So, President Obama really has to take a good look at this, and try and urge Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel not to do anything too quickly and wants to get time for diplomacy. Let's take a look at what he says in one of these excerpts.

He says, "America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy. We believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that the time is not unlimited. We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power.

But one of the purposes of the united nations is to see that we harness that power for peace, make no mistake, a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." And this is one of the things, right now, that the debate between the U.S. and Israel over how far can Iran go before the U.S. would support a military strike?

And so, President Obama really has to send this message to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we have your back. We're not going to let this happen.

BERMAN: The president obviously trying to set the tone from the high profile of that stage at the United Nations. But over the last 24 hours, it hasn't been the president setting the tone on foreign policy. It's been the secretary of state. She's been meeting with world leaders while he's been on "The View."

LABOTT: That's so right. I think that's why I just said. If I was talking about Bill or Hillary, I mean, there are a lot of issues going on around the world.

You saw what happened last week with these protests raging across the Middle East. Afghanistan, Pakistan, this attack on the consulate. And president Obama is on "The View" trashing Mitt Romney. Let's take a listen to what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would it be disastrous for the country if Mitt Romney were elected?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, you know, I think America is so strong, and we've got so much going for us, that we can survive a lot. But, the American people don't want to just survive.

We want everybody to thrive. We want folks to have a shot at success. And, so the question that just becomes whose policies are more likely to lead us to where we want to go?


LABOTT: And he's not just talking about, you know, Mitt Romney and making little jokes on the couch. He's talking about serious issues.

But President Obama has been campaigning on the fact that he's a foreign policy president, got rid of Osama Bin Laden, got the United States out of the war in Iraq, ending up the war in Afghanistan.

So it just seemed a little ridiculous, frankly, that he's on the couch with the ladies of "The View" and Secretary Clinton is the one doing the heavy lifting. She could have written better herself.

SAMBOLIN: He's taken a lot of criticism. Twenty four hours, I believe, is the amount of time that he's going to spend at the U.N. G.A. Meantime, let's focus on Clinton a little bit more because she had a light moment talking about taxes.

LABOTT: That's right. I mean, secretaries of state are not supposed to really get involved in politics. You're not supposed to combine the campaign with foreign policy.

But talking to the Clinton Global Initiative about issues of development she said you can't separate taxes from the larger issues of world poverty and development. But it was a little dig at Mitt Romney. Let's take a listen.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: One of the issues that I have been preaching about around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner especially from the elites in every country.

You know, I'm out of American politics, but, it is a fact that around the world the elites of every country are making money. There are rich people everywhere and yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries.


LABOTT: Getting this little dig in at Mitt Romney. You know the inner politician in Clinton comes out a lot. When I was traveling with her, she spoke about President Obama getting re-elected.

And when I asked her about that, you know, how come you're dabbling back into politics, is this a sign that you're -- have a future in office? And she said, look, it's in my DNA. I try not to go there, but sometimes I just can't help myself.

SAMBOLIN: A little bit of stretching there to make her make a commitment I suspect, Elise. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: It's about 5 minutes after the hour right now. Two staff sergeants will be court-martialed over a video U.S. officials described as deplorable and disgusting.

U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters last year, and posing for pictures with the corpses. The staff sergeants were charged in the incident and for failing to supervise junior troopers. Three other Marines have already been punished in the case.

SAMBOLIN: Officials at Washington's National Zoo still trying to determine how a giant panda cub died over the weekend. The initial tests revealed the 6-day-old cub, which weighed four ounces, was not crushed by its mother as some originally thought.

In this video, the mother can be heard crying out in distress. This was a first indication that zoo officials had that something was wrong. They say the mother appears to be returning to her normal routine.

But she still cradles a toy in her den as a sign that she's yet to transition from her mothering role. But she is eating well, they said and she's drinking well. She's headed to recovery herself.

All right, so later this hour at 6:45 Eastern, we'll talk with Dr. Dr. Suzan Murray, the chief veterinarian at the national zoo. She oversees the pandas.

BERMAN: We might find out today if the Supreme Court will take up the hot button issue of same-sex marriage. There are two pending appeals cases in which the high court may or may not decide to hear arguments. One involves the legal rights of surviving same sex partners. The other, a challenge to laws denying gay couples the right to wed.

And then this story, after week three of the NFL season, the cries are growing louder to get rid of the replacements and bring back real referees. Please especially after last night's controversial finish to Monday night football between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

Final seconds, fourth quarter, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson heaved a Hail Mary pass and it looks like it's intercepted by Green Bay safety Jennings.

SAMBOLIN: Slow-mo, I need to see that in slow-mo.

BERMAN: But no, here it is again. The guy in yellow looks like he has the ball, but the replacement refs say no, it's a touchdown. They say Seahawks receiver Golden Tate, number 81 there --

SAMBOLIN: I could see how from that, if you're looking at that frame, how you potentially see that, but when you play it back.

BERMAN: I mean, they look at this for 10 minutes. They called it a touchdown initially, looked at it for 10 minutes and still called it a touchdown. Didn't look like it to me the first time or the second time.

In the end, you know, the Seahawks won 14-12. Twitter exploded overnight. The analysts of the game, they thought this was a, you know, just a shocking call.

Analysts said it just shows you can't have the replacements making these calls. We have to reach some kind of labor agreement between the refs and ownership of the league.

SAMBOLIN: I wonder when that will happen, right?

BERMAN: You would think soon. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, is now allegedly involved in these negotiations. Hopefully there will be some resolution soon because we can't have more of this. We just can't.

SAMBOLIN: And you said that really this could affect the safety, also, of the players.

BERMAN: That's right. I mean, the refs police the field to make sure that the hits are safe and the players are safe and the refs have been not doing the job. The players could be at risk.

SAMBOLIN: All right, thanks for that analysis this morning. I know you're very passionate about this. It's 8 minutes past the hour, folks. Shocking allegations out of a California high school. Listen to this. Teen soccer players allegedly hazed at the hands of teammates. At least one case involves sexual abuse. We have a full report coming up.


SAMBOLIN: It's 11 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is about 12 minutes past the hour. New details coming to light right now in the sexual hazing investigation at a Southern California high school, four La Puente High School students have been cited and released after four younger students, soccer players, accused the older students of vicious abuse.

They say they were beaten with a stick, possibly a javelin, and at least in one case, the stick was allegedly used to sexually abuse one of them. In an interview with Dr. Drew, two of the accusers said six to ten students attacked them.

One of them said he saw an attacker wink at a teacher who is a soccer coach. The teacher has reportedly worked for the school for 12 years, raising the possibility that this may have gone on for some time.

So far a detective says he's interviewed students going back as far as 2003. Casey Wian is following the story for us. He is in La Puente this morning. Casey, what is the latest?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department says it has interviewed 70 students so far in this investigation, and we can also report that one employee of La Puente High School has been put on administrative leave. That employee has not been named by law enforcement.

Four students who were minors, as you mentioned, were briefly taken into custody and cited and released, pending this ongoing investigation. Now, the sheriff department says that hazing at La Puente High School in the soccer program has gone on for years.

And it may have, they stress, may have risen to the level of criminal conduct. Now an attorney representing three of the boys says this hazing was a rite of passage for younger players who made the school's varsity team.


"BILLY," ACCUSER: They told me if I wanted the easy way or the hard way, and like at that moment my heart was like pounding, and like, I just like kind of like blacked out, and I said -- I told them I just remember telling them I want it the easy way, but when I was done I started to run but like they got me back.

BARBARA NAKAOKA, SUPERINTENDENT, HACIENDA LA PUENTE SCHOOL DISTRICT, CALIFORNIA: We do not and will not turn a blind eye to reports of harassment or hazing, therefore we took immediate action to contact law enforcement to initiate an investigation.


WIAN: Now, an attorney representing three of those alleged victims says that a coach witnessed and perhaps even participated in some of this hazing that may have risen to the level of sexual abuse.

We attempted to contact the man who was listed as La Puente High School's soccer coach. That contact was unsuccessful. We were not able to reach him.

And at this point, the sheriff's department says, even though it's early in this investigation, they have no evidence that any member of the faculty or the coaching staff at the school was involved -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Casey Wian in La Puente, thank you very much for that this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Outrageous. Absolutely outrageous.

Fifteen minutes past the hour.

Let's get you up-to-date with this morning's top stories.

President Obama set to address world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly this morning. And his speech will touch on some familiar themes -- preventing a nuclear Iran, and support for Israel's security. The president won't be at the U.N. meeting for very long. He is skipping the customary bilateral meetings to resume campaigning.

A search is under way for missing University of Florida student Christian Aguilar. He disappeared last week after fighting with another 18-year-old over a young woman. Police call this a face of foul play and believe Aguilar may be injured if he's still alive. The second man, a person of interest in the case, has been charged with depriving a person of medical care.

A review finds more than 1,100 people in Massachusetts are in state prison or county jails because of potentially tainted drug evidence. Former state chemist Annie Duken (ph) allegedly told law enforcement officials that the results increase the weights of drug samples and violated evidence handling procedures. She has not been charged, but a criminal investigation is under way.

BERMAN: Buzz of the living dead. The first zombie bees have been spotted in Washington state. A parasite that may be caused by fly eggs has started infecting honey bees there.

This parasite causes bees to fly at night and fly around erratically until they die. They just look crazy. These zombie bees were first discovered in California in 2008.

SAMBOLIN: Amtrak is taking it to the limit on its high-speed Acela line. This week, it's conducting tests of the trains to 165 miles per hour along the Northeast corridor between Maryland and Massachusetts. They normally run from 135 to 150 miles an hour. Amtrak is spending $450 million to upgrade tracks, signals, and all the overhead wires.

So flight cancellations and delays are continuing to affect American Airlines this week. The airline is blaming a spike in instances of pilots calling in sick, and flight crews requesting maintenance on their aircraft.

BERMAN: American says pilots are unhappy with their recent labor contract, and last week the airline also told workers to expect about 4,400 layoffs and additional job changes.

Here's Christine Romans to explain how changes the airlines could affect your travel plans. This is today's "Road Warriors".

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And it is today going to change your travel plans, folks. According to, over 1,000 American airlines flights have been canceled. More than any other airline and over 13,000 have been delayed in the past month.

In response to this disruption, American is preemptively canceling between 1 percent and 2 percent of flights through October, and possibly beyond. They say more domestic flights are affected than international about this.

So what does it mean for travelers? Well, American says passengers whose flights are canceled will be notified as far in advance as possible, and they'll be automatically rebooked on to the next available flight. That's what's important. If they cancel your flight, they're going to automatically put you on the next one.

To make alternate arrangements, they recommend calling American's reservations department, and be patient, everyone.


ROMANS: If you're booked on American, you can keep up-to-date on your flight status using apps like Flight Track or the flight notification tool on the airline's Web site. You've got to Make sure they've got the right way to contact you.

Also consider allowing more time for your journey. That's an understatement. During the disruption, American is also waiving fees for all passengers who want to fly standby on an earlier aircraft.

Now, note that if your flight is canceled and you choose not to rebook you are entitled to a full refund of your fare.

But we've even seen people like Senator Marco Rubio was tweeting about this earlier this week, people on planes are saying -- wait, I'm told there's a maintenance issue, but you know, I don't think there's really a maintenance problem. Well you're probably right. It's a dispute with the pilots.

BERMAN: You know, or whether delays, when it's like sunny blue skies everywhere around the country. SAMBOLIN: How frustrating.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: Nineteen minutes after the hour right now.

And coming up, the fiscal cliff, and your tax bill. What happens if Congress fails to take action before the deadline? Hint: it's ugly.


BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning.

Ninety-eight days until the fiscal cliff hits. If Congress doesn't act before the end of the year, government spending will be slashed. And your taxes are going up.

SAMBOLIN: And Christine has been looking in depth at the taxes side of the fiscal cliff.

ROMANS: Because this infuriates me, because your taxes are going to go up. If the country goes over the fiscal cliff, your taxes are going to go up, and it will be the biggest tax increase that any family has ever had to absorb.

Let me show you how much. Tax increases on the fiscal cliff are $380 billion. Spending cuts are $100 billion.

The tax bill for a median income family making $55,000, two kids, is going to go up somewhere between $2,000 and $4,000 -- $2,000 and $4,000 for a family that makes 55 grand. That is going to hurt and you're going to feel it and it's going to slow the economy.

How will your taxes go up? A variety of ways -- it's not just the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. It's also the payroll tax. That was a temporary payroll tax holiday. That's going to be maybe 40 or 50 bucks a paycheck. That's going away probably no matter what.

The alternative minimum tax also. We told you about the Bush tax cuts, those expire. There's also the child tax credit that will be cut in half. It will fall to $500 from $1,000.

Income tax rates are going to change. The marriage penalty relieve goes away. Capital gains rate changes. The dividend rate changes.

I mean, a lot of different ways that savers, investors and earners are going to get hit with taxes on the fiscal cliff.

And, again, the White House says $2,200 is what the increased tax bill will be because of the fiscal cliff. When you add in the payroll tax holiday and some other expiration of tax goodies that are in there, the conservatives over at the Heritage Foundation say it's more like $4,000 tax bill will rise if Congress does -- are they even talking about how to fix it, John? You know these people better than I do. BERMAN: Not yet. They put it off until after the election.

So, Christine, all this sounds really bad. But what I really want to know is there going to be a bacon shortage?


ROMANS: The one thing you need to foe about your honey today, do not panic. America do not panic about the reports that there's going to be a bacon shortage.

SAMBOLIN: I put it on Facebook this morning.

ROMANS: The U.S. is not running out of bacon. The USDA yesterday reported record amounts of pork in warehouses in the U.S. Now --

SAMBOLIN: Why did we have that?

ROMANS: Because of the drought this summer prices could go higher next year. You're going to pay more for your bacon. But please don't lose any sleep about this report. It's from the U.K. Pig Association, and they're encouraging supermarkets to pay farmers more. That's something that's happening in Europe and it's happening in London.

We have lots of pork in America. You're just going to have to pay more for it.

BERMAN: Thank you so much. You just saved me so much anxiety.

ROMANS: I know.

SAMBOLIN: Well, actually that was more about her.


ROMANS: I know.

SAMBOLIN: That's why that story is in there. Thank you, Christine.

So, 25 minutes past the hour. Facebook investigating whether private messages were exposed for everyone to see. Why the company says, don't worry. That's headed your way next.

If you are leaving the house right now, don't panic about not being able to watch us. We're on your desktop, your mobile phone. Just go to

BERMAN: Do it.


SAMBOLIN: The two candidates taking on the world. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney with big foreign policy addresses today.

BERMAN: Panda cub mystery. The death of a young cub under the microscope at the national zoo. SAMBOLIN: School punishment controversy. Listen to this. A Texas high school that wants to let male teachers spank female students.


SAMBOLIN: Big wow. And big welcome back to EARLY START. We're happy you're with us. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. It's about half past the hour right now.

And the top story this morning -- the game of politics at home and abroad colliding here in New York this morning.

At 10:10 a.m. Eastern Time, the president will address the United Nations General Assembly, trying to convey to the world that he is fully engaged on issues like the Syrian uprising, the crisis in the Middle East, and Iran's nuclear ambitions. All this while his Republican challenger tries to make the case that he is not engaged.

Mitt Romney unleashed a barrage of criticism on the president for his words and deeds, when it comes to foreign policy.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: He said the developments in the Middle East are bumps in the road. These are not bumps in the road, these are human lives. These are developments we do not want to see.

This is time for a president who will shape events in the Middle East, not just be merciful or be in mercy of events in the Middle East.


BERMAN: CNN political reporter Peter Hamby joins me live now from Washington.

Mitt Romney has a speech, I should say, also later today, where foreign policy will no doubt come up. Peter, he was very aggressive in his words and tone, and there was a coordinated response among Republicans across the country.

Is this all part of the so-called Romney reboot?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, look. The months and months of attacks against President Obama on the economy just haven't worked. Poll after poll shows, you know, that Romney how has -- excuse me, Obama has an advantage on the economy. Even Obama has an advantage on taxes, last time Democrats had an advantage on taxes was, you know, probably when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.

You know, the Romney campaign thinks that these images, you know, a lot of people overseas, undermine voters confidence in Obama so they're going to keep pressing this. The vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, was in Ohio yesterday. Listen to what he had to say about Obama's foreign policy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think the president on too many occasions has deferred our foreign policy leadership to the U.N. Security Council, to the U.N. This means Russia and China get to veto what we want to do. Why do we want to give them that kind of clout over our national security interests?


HAMBY: Ryan also compared Obama to Jimmy Carter saying these images of violence overseas looks like Tehran in 1979, that hostage crisis that undercut Carter's re-election bid. You know, this is really fascinating, John. This is the main thrust of the Romney campaign right now, is foreign policy. Not the economy.

BERMAN: It is interesting, Carter, by the way, Jimmy Carter a four- letter word among Republicans.

But while the president is facing this criticism, he has decided not to meet with foreign leaders and not to have these bilateral meetings that are somewhat traditional at the U.N. General Assembly meetings. But he's gone on "The View."

We talked a lot this morning about the criticism he's facing for that. I wonder if you can explain, perhaps, the advantages of going on a show like "The View."

HAMBY: Yes. I mean, last time he went on "The View" I believe was May. He got more than 4 million viewers. And these viewers are predominantly women. And women are turning into a decisive vote in this election. Obama continues to have an advantage among women nationally in swing state polls. This is what's keeping him afloat.

And he took the opportunity in a taping yesterday that's going to air today to really hit Romney on tax policy. This is what he had to say, John.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll give you a very clear example. Yesterday, Governor Romney on "60 Minutes" said, was asked, does he think it's fair that he pays a lower tax rate than somebody who is making $50,000 a year. And he said yes, I think it's fair, and I also think that's the way you get economic growth.

I think, Barbara, that you grow an economy from the middle out, not from the top down.


BERMAN: So, Peter, obviously one of the key states in this election is Ohio. No Republican has won the presidency without also winning Ohio. You've been working your sources on the phones, and in person. Are Republican sources talking about what kind of problems Mitt Romney faces there right now? HAMBY: Yes. One thing that's interesting about Ohio is Romney's losing there, according to polls, as he is in most swing states. But he's losing by a little bit more in Ohio. So I'm trying to figure out why this is.

There's a number of reasons. A lot of Republicans there complaining about, you know, Romney bringing in staff from out of state that don't necessarily know what they're doing with Ohio. But the main complaint I've heard in conversations with dozens of Republicans in Ohio is Romney doesn't really have a coherent message. They don't know what he stands for.

And also, this is a state with an unemployment rate that's a point lower than nationally. You have a Republican governor, John Kasich, who talks all over the state, day after day, about how the economy there is really growing and booming. And Romney doesn't necessarily, you know, say the same thing. It's kind of mixed messages.

And he also hasn't come up with a really strong, coherent response, to the auto bailout. He says let Detroit go bankrupt. There's a supply chain, you know, a lot of manufacturers in Ohio.

The Obama campaign talks about this day after day after day after day and Romney campaign doesn't really have much of an answer for it.

Romney's going to Ohio after his New York visit to join up with Paul Ryan for a bus tour. They know how important it is and they definitely have some work to do, John.

BERMAN: All right. Thank you, Peter Hamby in Washington. The Romney Ohio bus tour begins today. Thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-five minutes past the hour.

The FBI will investigate the controversial shooting death of a disabled man. This was by police in Houston. On Saturday, officers were called to a group home for mentally ill people. Responding to reports that a wheelchair-bound resident was acting aggressively. Police say Brian Claunch, a double amputee, advanced towards officers holding an object that turned out to be a pen. One officer shot him in the head. Claunch died at the scene.

BERMAN: A California judge says singer Chris Brown has tested positive for marijuana, and that could be big because Brown is serving five years' probation for that infamous 2009 assault on his then- girlfriend Rihanna. Rihanna sent her ex a tweet before he faced the judge on Monday, saying, "I'm praying for you and wishing you the best today."

A probation violation hearing has been set for November 1st.

SAMBOLIN: Talk about the high seas. Swimmers in Florida helped retrieve large packages of marijuana that were on board an apparent drug smuggling boat that capsized near Jacksonville. This was earlier this month. The boat resurfaced off the coast of Flagler County. The Department of Fish and Wildlife says nearly 150 pounds of pot were recovered.

BERMAN: Facebook says private messages dating back to 2009 and earlier are not being posted on users' public time lines. They checked out the situation after some users registered their complaint. Facebook says the messages in question were actually public wall postings from friends, the kind that have always been viewable on user profiles.

SAMBOLIN: A 15-year-old female high school student got a little more than she bargained for when she agreed to be spanked by a teacher. To get a suspension reduced. Taylor Santos goes to Springtown high school near Fort Worth, Texas, and she chose a paddling to get her two-day suspension cut in half for allegedly copying class work.

Her mom approved the corporal punishment but tells affiliate WFAA she didn't realize a male vice principal would be administering hit, which is against school policy.


ANNA JORGENSEN, TAYLOR'S MOTHER: It looked almost as if it had been burned and blistered, it was so bad.

TAYLOR SANTOS, SPANKED BY MALE TEACHER: And it was bright red, like bad. I still have welts on me today.


SAMBOLIN: Wow. Since Taylor's paddling, Springtown High School officials have been talking about expanding the corporal punishment rules to allow male teachers to spank female students. Nineteen states, including Texas, allow corporal punishment in schools.

BERMAN: Thirty-seven minutes after the hour right now.

Football fans saying this morning, enough is enough. Coming up, did you see this? You may not want to. Outrage over the call made last night by the replacement refs on Monday night football. Crazy.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. It is 41 minutes after the hour. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

Fast-moving wildfires are posing dangers in two parts of the country this morning. The body of an 82-year-old man was discovered in a home. This was in San Diego County. The so-called Shockey Fire in southern California has scorched about 2,000 acres. It's forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from their homes, as well.

Now, in another fire in Oklahoma has now been contained. About 100 firefighters battled the grass fire that threatened about a dozen homes and closed a state highway for much of the afternoon.

So let's talk to meteorologist Rob Marciano at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

So, we're hoping there's some rain headed toward that area.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Not a whole lot. But we'll look for the heat to maybe abate a little bit across southern California. The Northwest has seen incredibly hot and dry weather the past couple months, they've got 20 large fires burning in this area. And so much so that you've got visibility and air quality issues there, especially east of the Cascades.

Here's So Cal -- no rain expected, but it still will be warm. A little bit of rain in upper elevations, snow across parts of the Inner Mountain West. And some thunderstorms, these were kind of rough, that moved just north of Seattle, rapidly moving off towards the east and they could become severe as they continue towards the Ohio and Tennessee Valley.

Little cool front, another one, about to drop down from Canada. That will reinforce cool air that's already in place. Before that happens, we'll get a look at rain comes across the Great Lakes and eventually tomorrow into the Northeast. Until then, looks to be another nice day after a chilly start in some spots.

Temps in the 40s and 50s, rebounding into the 60s and 70s, lower 80s, Atlanta. Ninety-four degrees, and hat's where the fire threat is today in eastern Oklahoma, where it still feels like summer.

Guys, back up to you.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Rob.

Other news back here at home. The stakes are high for President Obama at home and abroad. In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly this morning, he is expected to reaffirm support for Israel's security, and the U.S. commitment to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It's also an opportunity for the president to compare his world view to Mitt Romney's.

SAMBOLIN: Four students in La Puente high school in southern California cited and released. They are accused of assault in a sexual hazing case. The D.A.'s office now investigating and many adults might have been involved, as well. The players were reportedly beaten with a stick, possibly a javelin. Their coach is now on leave.

BERMAN: He sparked outrage with his comments about what he called legitimate rape and pregnancy, not to mention strange biology. And today is the deadline for Congressman Todd Akin to drop out of the Missouri Senate race. Akin has vowed to stay in the race, despite the national GOP pulling funding and calls for him to drop out.

Newt Gingrich is calling on Republicans to actually support Akin now, as a way to take back the Senate from Democrats.

SAMBOLIN: And we could find out as early as today if the Supreme Court will take up the hot button issue of same-sex marriage. There are two pending appeals cases in which the high court may or may not decide to hear the arguments. One involves the real rights of surviving same-sex partners. The other a challenge to laws denying gay couples the right to wed.

BERMAN: The NFL's replacement referees taking an awful beating after last night's controversial finish for the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks game. Last play of the game, Seahawks trailing by five, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson hurls a Hail Mary pass to the end zone. It appears it was intercepted by Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings as the clock expired.

But, the replacement officials ruled this a touchdown. They say Golden Tate somehow, the man in blue, they say, caught it. I don't see it.


BERMAN: I agree.

SAMBOLIN: They're crazy.

BERMAN: Exactly. Still, the Seahawks won, 14-12. The crowd, the cries from everywhere, including Soledad O'Brien, coaches, players, and fans, bring back the real refs! Right?



SAMBOLIN: How does that happen? And how does that happen? If you're looking at the tape, it's a collective group of people, how does that happen?

BERMAN: The issue was who had possession of the ball, and the refs thought that Golden Tate, the Seahawks player, had possession of the ball even though the Packers player was holding it on his chest.


O'BRIEN: In other words, a bad call. That's the short answer to what he's -- all right. We got lots happening this morning on "Starting Point" starting right at the top of the hour. President Obama is preparing to address the United Nations today.

He's going to tackle foreign policy, deliver a warning to Iran about their nuclear program, not planning, though, to meet with foreign leaders publicly. So, the big question there, is he making a big mistake ahead of the election?

We're going to talk this morning to Senator John Barrasso and also the former congressman, Robert Wexler, about what they think the president needs to say today.

And, America fell in love with her on "Laverne and Shirley." I sit down with actress and director, Penny Marshall. She's got a new memoir out. It's called "My Mother Was Nuts." And he is the king of the gridiron, the New York Giants star wide receiver, Victor Cruz, will join us. He's going to talk about this call and the replacement refs. How he thinks it's affecting the game. And also, maybe talk about all the other things he's doing in his life.

He's got a very cute commercial for Campbell's. You know you've made it big when Campbell's puts your mom on the commercial with you.


BERMAN: A very interested to hear what he has to say about the refs.

O'BRIEN: Yes. It will be very interesting.

SAMBOLIN: I walked in this morning, the guys downstairs were beyond themselves knowing that he's going to walk into the building. They're staying in order to meet him.

O'BRIEN: I almost took my son out of school.


O'BRIEN: At the last minute, I go, it would be terrible parenting.


BERMAN: All right. With that parenting note here, 46 minutes after the hour. Coming up on EARLY START, a search for the truth amid sadness after the mysterious death of that young panda cub. The chief veterinarian of the Smithsonian National Zoo will join us to talk about what happened. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: Veterinarians at the Smithsonian National Zoo still trying to figure out what killed six-day-old -- a six-day-old baby panda cub. Initial tests have ruled out the theory that the newborn was crushed by its mother and some new video this morning of the mother showing us just when zoo keepers first realized something was wrong.

You can hear the mother panda cry out in distress. This was early Sunday morning. Take a listen.



BERMAN: The mother has taken to cradling a toy in place of her missing newborn while she sleeps. Dr. Suzan Murray is the chief veterinarian at the Smithsonian National Zoo. She has been overseeing the panda. And that reaction from the mother, Mei Xiang, it feels so human. Can you tell us how she's doing this morning?

DR. SUZAN MURRAY, CHIEF VETERINARIAN, SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL ZOO: Mei Xiang is doing well this morning. She's been sleeping better. She's returned to eating, and she's interacting a lot more with keeper staff as well as veterinary staff.

BERMAN: It feels so sad to see her with that toy like it's her baby cub still.

MURRAY: Right.

BERMAN: You've received the initial results on the tests of what happened to the baby cub. What can you tell us?

MURRAY: It's very frustrating to try and figure out exactly what happened. We do first an initial exam, and then, tissue -- and then, when we get it back full exam. So, we'll examine tissue under the microscope. So, our pathology team was able to determine that our cub's body was intact, meaning she hadn't been crushed.

But there was some fluid in the abdomen. Most likely shouldn't be there, at least, not in that quantity. So, we're investigating the cause for that.

BERMAN: So, the fluid in the abdomen right now is the leading possibility for what may have caused the death?

MURRAY: Yes. It's a little bit hard to conjecture too much, but that certainly is an abnormality, or at least the amount of fluid. So, we're looking into the cause of that. That's what we're looking at right now.

BERMAN: These panda cubs are so small when they're born. We always hear them compared to the size of a stick of butter.

MURRAY: Right.

BERMAN: Yet, they're left in with the mother panda. Is that a risk -- is there any thought to the idea that they should be taken away right away so you maybe can monitor them better right after they're born?

MURRAY: No. I think that one of the most important things in nature is that, you know, very often mom knows best. And certainly, that's true with giant pandas. One of the things that we try and do is make sure that we don't intervene, unless, there's a sign of a problem.

And we give mom and baby time to be together. It was certainly the approach we chose with tai Shan and that just worked out wonderfully.

BERMAN: Now, Mei Xiang has had a healthy cub in the past, but the previous pair living in the national zoo had five births that ultimately related in death. Why is it so hard for these panda babies to grow up, to make it?

MURRAY: As you said, when they're first born, they're so small. They're not fully covered. They're not fully haired, and they're just -- you know, they're just ounces. So, they don't have the best immune system right off the bat. So, they've got a lot against them.

At the same time with Mei Xiang, we were really hopeful. She was such a great mom to Tai Shan. So, we're really expecting this to -- and we really let our hearts go. You now, we really believed that this little cub was going to make it.

BERMAN: So, Mei Xiang, not young, 14 years old, correct? What are the plans for her going forward? More attempts?

MURRAY: We don't know just yet. Our main concern right now is finding out the cause of death of the cub, and then just making sure that Mei Xiang's doing well. And as you asked earlier, she's doing -- she's -- beginning to get back to normal, but we think it might take a little while.

BERMAN: All right. Dr. Suzan Murray, thank you so much for joining us this morning, the chief veterinarian at the Smithsonian National Zoo. We were all so sad when we heard the panda cub didn't make it. So, thank you for joining us this morning.

MURRAY: Thank you so much.

BERMAN: Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. That is very sad. You know, I had never seen the pictures when it was such a tiny baby either. So, anyway, today's "Best Advice" from Oscar winner, Forest Whitaker, coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-seven minutes past the hour. We wrap it up as always with "Best Advice."

BERMAN: Here's Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: All right. This is from Oscar-winning actor, Forest Whitaker, and he quotes his mother. Listen.


FOREST WHITAKER, OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR: I think it was something that my mom told me when I was a little kid. It was time she was trying to convince me to go to church and she said you know, you don't have to go with me to church, you don't have to go to the same or believe the same things that I do, but you have to believe in something. You must believe in something.


ROMANS: I believe in him. I believe in his voice and his calmness. And he's such a great actor. You know, he's a very cool zen kind of guy.

SAMBOLIN: My mom said you have to go to church.

ROMANS: My mom said --

SAMBOLIN: And get up and you're going -- ROMANS: You have to believe what I believe. You can --


ROMANS: --if you want, but I'm the boss.

BERMAN: No choices here.


BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START this morning. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.